Ah — the refrigerator, aside from Freebirds, it is the culinary center of college students in Isla Vista. These are the formidable years during which we gain our footing in the kitchen, and while for the most part that means learning how to boil water, fry an egg and heat up leftovers, we have often overlooked a huge component of kitchen etiquette: storing our food properly.
This has, at least in my experience with the student population, been a shit show. It appears that our preteen and teenage brains forgot where our parents kept food and simply made up our own nonsense rules about storage that make absolutely no sense.
It’s essential that we educate ourselves on this matter because when it’s anywhere between four to up to 14 people trying to share kitchen space, every inch counts. I’m here to provide you with the keys to a successful and harmonious arrangement of your favorite foods.
Prelude: if you haven’t already purchased or convinced your parents to purchase you a set of plastic storage containers in various sizes, do so; this is key to getting the most out of your food and keeping it neat.
The layout of your fridge:
Have you ever noticed the intricate layout of your fridge, or are you just lucky you can tell the difference between the freezer and the fridge? If you’re the latter, allow me to enlighten you: The door of your fridge is designed for your non-perishable refrigerated foods, like a bottle of wine or some condiments. Avoid putting your eggs or milk there because the temperature tends to fluctuate more often. This causes the whites of your eggs to thin from the constant movement and also aids in the spoiling of these goods.
Just like in the regular world, your fridge follows the same scientific laws: heat rises. Although it may not actually be hot, the difference of a few degrees can be the deciding factor on whether your chicken breast sends you to the hospital or sends you into a delightful food coma. In other words, store your meat products toward the bottom shelf (or a meat chiller drawer if you have one). This will keep them safe from bacterial growth and will also prevent them from possibly dripping onto your other fridge items and cross-contaminating. Or, better yet, store them in the freezer until you plan to use them and thaw them out when necessary.
The drawers in your fridge are a magical fortress to keep your veggies and cheeses in a safe space. The bottom drawers are crispers; they help hold in different ranges of humidity to help preserve your fruits and veggies longer. They also help prevent cross-contamination, which, in case you didn’t know, is a huge deal; just ask your local health inspector.
The cheese drawer is not just for aesthetics, people. Separating your cheese is an important component in making sure that the flavor of your cheese stays intact. Cheese can very easily take on the flavors of surrounding items or taint other foods. Cheese may make everything better, but it may not make your apples tastier. Or you may not enjoy the flavor of kumquat-tainted cheese.
Packaging proper produce:
This is the part that seems to really get the best of college students. Repeat after me: Just because it’s a fruit or vegetable does not mean it goes in the fridge. Fruits like bananas, melons, tomatoes and avocados do not fare well in frigid temperatures. They are produced in largely tropical warm areas, so the cold reacts adversely against them, causing the bananas and the melon to blacken quickly, the tomatoes to lose retention in their skin and the avocados to harden and brown.
Apples, although from a more temperate climate, shouldn’t be stored in the fridge unless it is exceptionally hot and humid. Of course, after the fruit is chopped or if it has reached peak ripeness, a few days in the fridge can prolong the freshness.
The same concept applies to vegetables: Veggies from warmer climates, like peppers and zucchini, do not need to be kept in the fridge and do better in a basket in the pantry. Root vegetables, like onions, garlic, carrots and potatoes, also should not be kept in the fridge; they should be kept in a dry and dark place to prevent them from sprouting or producing large amounts of sugar, which, when baked, can have carcinogenic effects. Mushrooms, although a fungus, should also be stored like a root vegetable.
There are other things that you may be storing in the fridge that are better left in the pantry. Bread gets very chewy in the fridge, and the cold temperature removes all the moisture. Peanut butter and honey also have a long shelf life even after being opened; the cold temperatures will cause them to dry out and become unspreadable. Canned or sealed glass containers (like unopened pasta sauce) go on the shelf as well. However, always double-check labels! Some items need to be “refrigerated after opening” or “used within ‘x’ amount of days after opening.”
Remember, nowadays, a little common sense can go a long way. When you bought it in the store, was it in the chilled section or was it in the dry pantry section? The answer to this question should give you a pretty solid clue about where your food should go in your kitchen. Storing food efficiently can help ease tensions between you and your housemates and may save you a long and uncomfortable trip to the bathroom.